The Warren Harding player and coach have formed a mutual understanding, which has helped the team.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- Maurice Clarett and Thom McDaniels understand each other. For that, the Warren Harding High football team should be thankful.
"Last year we formed a relationship, but it's not the kind of relationship like we've got now," said Clarett, the 6-foot, 231-pound senior running back bound for Ohio State.
McDaniels coached Canton McKinley for 16 seasons, leading the Bulldogs to the Division I state championship in 1997. When he took over last year at Warren, McDaniels sought to bring the program back to the top with discipline and committed players.
Understanding: "A lot of times as a player, you really don't understand what a coach is doing, so you don't put your whole attitude and demeanor into what the coach is trying to teach you," said Clarett, whose team faces Ursuline in a Steel Valley Conference game Friday at Mollenkopf Stadium.
"Once you understand it, and once you understand the purpose, it's easier to carry out the plan," he said.
Enter McDaniels, who has provided that purpose. He feels the strong bond between himself and Clarett.
"He wants communication, he wants understanding. When he's provided with that, he's a much more comfortable human being," McDaniels said. "I'm old-school. He's a modern-day young man, but I think he respects old-school."
Thriving: While Clarett understands the type of program McDaniels is running, he's also thriving in the Raiders' offense. Through three games, in which Warren has out-scored its opponents 202-0, Clarett has 449 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, including four on punt returns.
"[McDaniels] gives me a lot of freedom to run with the ball and make a lot of my own decisions," Clarett said. "So playing in his offense is real easy to me."
Clarett sees a lot of similarity between McDaniels and Jim Tressel, the Ohio State coach whom the running back will play for next season.
"They just act alike," Clarett said of the coaches. "[Coach Tressel] knows how I like Coach McDaniels' offense. So, I figure, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Tressel factor: Tressel's hiring at Ohio State swayed Clarett toward Columbus and away from South Bend, Ind., where he was close to deciding on Notre Dame.
"Once I heard Coach Tressel was going to Ohio State, it was like a win-win situation," Clarett said. "I knew what kind of program [Tressel] had at Youngstown State, so I could do nothing but pick the best system for me."
Clarett grew up in Youngstown, where he still lives, and played for the Little Braves and Hillman Middle School before beginning his varsity career as a freshman at Fitch. He transferred to Warren the following year, blocking out those who said he was recruited and injury prone.
"It's been a different experience -- the whole transfer, meeting new people," Clarett said. "It's a whole different environment. It's kind of like going into college."
Focus: That's a destination at which Clarett will find himself next year as one of the state's top recruits. Still, he makes an effort to maintain his focus.
"Everybody blows you up to be such a great athlete -- it's none of that for me," he said of the hype. "It's doing what I'm supposed to do."
Clarett is known for his combination of speed and power, part of his development that he credits to McDaniels and Warren running backs coach Matt Richardson.
"As a player, you want to distinguish yourself from everybody," Clarett said. "I try to create my own style. I try to run around people, I try to fake people out, I try to run over you.
"Hopefully, someday, people will be comparing themselves to me," he said. "I want to set my own standards, my own stage, and I want somebody to say, 'He ran like Maurice Clarett.' "